I once had a bad book habit, which meant I couldn’t resist buying new and used books. Going into Green Apple Books was like visiting the crack dealer.

As a result, I had tons (literally) of books piling up and collecting dust and making me feel guilty for not reading them. On trips to the bookstore, I’d buy one book for every 25 I wanted to buy, but even then I couldn’t keep up.

In the name of sustainability (and of not going bankrupt) I circled back to regularly patronizing the San Francisco Public Library. There, I can check out 25 books (digital or paper) with relative impunity.

At home, I retain only 3 small shelves’ worth of books. Each title must meet one of these four criteria: I refer to it often and re-read it regularly. It is unavailable to borrow from the library. It is out of print. It has high sentimental value.

As a result, you’ll find almost no fiction in my cupboard, and mainly poetry, writings on Zen, cherished children’s books (mine and/or my kids’), writing about writing, titles on home/architecture, a signed first edition of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (my favorite novel of all time), my first Bible, a smattering of books to do with Virginia (where I was raised), and four books my Uncle Howard gave me including The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come and Gone With The Wind.

My little library changes all the time. I review what’s there and if something doesn’t get read or doesn’t feel special, it goes away. I thank the book and the author for the pleasure or solace or wisdom the book gave me, and then I give it away.

I don’t want dusty shelves, or a cluttered head. I don’t want a pile of stuff I haven’t read or will never get around to reading. I want the books on my three shelves to be as familiar as my sons’ faces — known by their spines, the pages lived into, the words a comfort or delight.

What others think of the titles I keep doesn’t matter to me. The books’ reputations are irrelevant. They are steadfast companions, as reliable as my closest confidantes.

As Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Which books are your best friends? Take a photo and share it with me!

I lead writing and mindfulness workshops throughout the Bay Area. My approach is adaptable in many settings — from helping groups honor an important life event to assisting a business team in articulating a shared vision. Contact me to learn more. For information on my San Francisco real estate practice, visit RealEstateTherapy.org or CynthiaCummins.com.